Set in Style: Van Cleef & Arpels at Cooper Hewitt

Vintage brooch of rubies, diamonds, and platinum employing Van Cleef & Arpels' innovative “mystery” setting, Paris, circa 1937

We attended the Van Cleef & Arpels exhibit at the Cooper-Hewitt Museum over the weekend, where 250 exquisite pieces are currently on display. Vintage jewelry has such wonderful design, and Van Cleef & Arpels’ pieces are amongst the most stunning! Known for their innovative techniques and bold designs, Alfred van Cleef and Salomon Arpels were pioneers in jewelry design in the 20th century, attracting an international following, including royalty and movie stars among its numbers.

One of their innovative techniques was the “mystery” setting in which “matched gemstones are grooved and set in channels so that the setting is invisible.” The result is a sculptural piece of jewelry that defies logic—multifaceted gemstones form intricate folds in a flower petal with little to no framework visible.

Van Cleef & Arpels also designed many of their pieces with versatility in mind. Brooches could come apart and be worn as earrings. Their Zip necklace could zip straight up the middle to become a bracelet. This flexibility in their designs, along with their Old World European craft, made them especially popular in New York after World War II.

Below are a few pieces that caught our eye:

Walska brooch/pendant, yellow diamonds, sapphires, white diamonds, and yellow gold. The wings come off to be worn as earrings, the tail comes off to form a brooch, and the pendant can be detached and worn separately. New York, circa 1971

Zip Necklace in gold, rubies, and diamonds. Paris, circa 1955

Two emerald, diamond, and platinum cuff bracelets combined to form a necklace, formerly owned by Daisy Fellowes. Circa 1926

The exhibit runs until July 4. If you have the opportunity to view the exhibit, you won’t be disappointed! To find your own vintage Van Cleef & Arpels piece, you can visit Fiona Druckenmiller’s beautiful boutique, F.D. in New York City, or view the collection online.

A pair of vintage Van Cleef & Arpels mystery-set earrings in diamonds and sapphires available at F.D. Gallery in New York City.

Photos: 1, 2, 4: courtesy of Copper Hewitt; 3 Brook Mason; 5 F.D. Gallery

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For as long as I can remember, I’ve been fascinated by design and the subtle impact of our surroundings. Some of my earliest influences still resonate – I think of the dark woods and textured lodens of my father’s shooting club, the smell of fresh paint on a new canvas, and the bold symmetry of the Philip Johnson Glass house just down the street. For me, it was a natural path to become an Interior Designer. I love what I do. I’ve created this Journal to share my thoughts, finds and design inspirations. I hope you enjoy it!

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